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Multnomah County won’t re-hire bike/ped coordinator, suspends citizen committee

Posted by on April 7th, 2009 at 12:47 pm

“Due to continued declining transportation revenues, the County has decided not replace that transportation planning staff position in the near future. Regrettably, a consequence is that we are unable to staff the Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee, and it will be suspended until further notification.”
— Jane McFarland, Multnomah County Tranportation Planner in an email to committee members

Members of the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee were surprised this weekend when they received an email saying the committee will be “suspended until further notification”.

The email came from the county’s principal transportation planner Jane McFarland. McFarland wrote that “due to declining transportation revenues” Multnomah County has no plans to replace their recently departed bike/ped coordinator Jennifer Dederich and that, “regrettably, a consequence is that we are unable to staff the Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee…”

McFarland assured committee members that the County will “continue planning, constructing and maintaining bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”

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Multnomah County plays an important role in Portland’s bikeway network because they have jurisdiction over six Willamette River crossings including the Hawthorne, Broadway, Burnside, Morrison, Sauvie Island and Sellwood bridges.

Get Together in Multnomah Village-8
Andrew Holtz (at left), shown here at
our Get Together event last month, was
an active member of the committee.
(Also shown are Officer Robert Pickett
(center) and PSU’s Ian Stude (R).
(Photos © J. Maus)

McFarland noted that the suspension of the committee will be temporary, but some members say they are very concerned at what this means to the County’s involvement with the community about important bicycle and pedestrian issues.

One committee member, who wanted to remain anonymous, wrote via email that, “Some of the committee members are not especially pleased with how this has been handled and are concerned that the County might be using this as an excuse not to dedicate resources to bike/ped issues.”

Committee member Andrew Holtz told me this morning that he thinks this is “a terrible idea”. “I know things are tight,” he said, “but it seems like closing off this avenue of public input is not a good idea.” Holtz said he (and other citizen members) have put in a lot of volunteer time to work on the committee and he is disappointed in the news. “To have them say, ‘gosh, we just don’t have time for you anymore’…I took it as a personal insult.”

Another member of the committee, Matt Picio, also said he is disappointed. He told me that none of the committee members were notified that the dissolution of the committee was even being considered. Picio says that “If the county dissolves the committee, it will reduce public impact on county bike projects by eliminating their only official and recurring interface to the public on bicycle and pedestrian matters.”

“It disturbs me,” continued Picio, “that the committee is being shelved when key decisions regarding the Sellwood Bridge have yet to be made.”

bike parking during bus mall construction
Multnomah County manages bike facilities
on several downtown bridges. They
were behind these pavement markings
on the Hawthorne.

Picio also thinks McFarland should “call a spade a spade”. He thinks the county isn’t “unable” (as they say) to staff the committee, but that they’re “unwilling to do so”. He points to other County transportation employees and says that, they have “apparently determined that staffing the BPCAC is not a priority at this time with the staff hours and financial resources they have at hand.” Picio thinks while this may be a valid decision, saying they are “unable” to staff it is “disingenuous.”

In defense of the committee, Holtz says he doesn’t think the County has the legal right to shut it down. He points out that the committee was established by Multnomah County Code that specifically states the Transportation Division “provides technical and clerical support for the Committee.” According to Holtz, “Unless the County Commission reverses this code, they have to find a way to help support the committee.”

Holtz says the committee is “a valuable way for the transportation division to have an ongoing interaction with the larger community.”

Hottest Day of the Year Ride
Multnomah County also manages
the Broadway Bridge.

The committee used to meet once a month for two hours to review bike/ped projects in the pipeline, weigh in on project priority lists, and other tasks. “We rarely finish our meetings early,” says Holtz, “there was always a lot for us to do.”

Current projects that the committee was working on include the bike and ped improvements on the Morrison Bridge (currently under construction) and a conceptual design planning project for new bike and pedestrian facilities on Scholls Ferry Road.

We’ll have more on this story soon. We have a call into Jane McFarland but have not heard back yet.

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Comments
  • metal cowboy April 7, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Disturbing news. Would love to hear more from McFarlandregarding rationales and plans for public imput.

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  • Scott Mizée April 7, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Yes, this is very disturbing news. Frankly, I’m a little shocked to hear it. I must have missed the story that Jennifer was gone. Less than a month ago, I heard her speaking at the PBAC meeting about their plans for Scholl’s Ferry.

    I’m interested in the statement:

    the committee was established by a county ordinance that specifically states the transportation division must provide staff support to the committee. “So, unless the County Commission reverses this ordinance, they have to find a way to help support the committee.”

    Where can we verify this statement? I’d like to know what the county’s response is. Either, a) they know this and have a plan around it or b) this is an oversight and they forgot/didn’t realize this, or c) they know this and do not know what they are going to do about it.

    I hope the committee keeps meeting on their own, even if they there isn’t a staffed person there from Multnomah County.

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  • peejay April 7, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    How much does it cost to hire “volunteers”? I thought they work for free!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 7, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Scott,

    i did not do a story when Jennifer Dederich left the county. Below is a portion of the email from Jane McFarland that clearly states 1) that she is not longer working for Multnomah County and 2) that they county has no plans to hire another person in that position:

    As you may know, the County’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator, Jennifer Dederich, is no longer working for Multnomah County. Due to continued declining transportation revenues, the County has decided not replace that transportation planning staff position in the near future.

    thank you for your comment and I regret if my story caused you any confusion.

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  • Scott Mizée April 7, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks Jonathan. The email sounds as if she has not been employed for the county for a period of time. Do you know when her employment there ended?

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  • matt picio April 7, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Scott (#2) – The committee was supposed to meet tomorrow night. A number of the members are exploring having our scheduled meeting at an alternative venue, even if it is unofficial. As for verifying the requirement to provide staff:

    The Multnomah County Code, Ch. 3 page 11 (http://www2.co.multnomah.or.us/counsel/code/ch3.pdf), states:
    Ҥ 3.378 STAFF.
    The Division provides technical and clerical support for the Committee.”

    peejay (#3) – The committee is volunteer, except for the county staff person from the Transportation Division. The money involved is for the staff time and resources. I don’t know the exact number of staff hours, but it’s probably about 6-8 hours per month on average. (that’s a guess, based on 2-3 hours of staff time per meeting hour, and a 2-hour monthly meeting)

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  • matt picio April 7, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Scott (#5) – Jennifer left about a week ago, and notified the committee she was leaving about a week before that.

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  • peejay April 7, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    So, Matt, if you all agree to do your own dictation, you cost the County nothing, right? I guess my point is there’s no reason for them to not want you to meet, and really nothing they can do to prevent it. The question of whether they listen to anything you say is another issue.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 7, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    just spoke with someone from the County about this … i will post a follow-up story shortly.

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  • ChipSeal April 7, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Gee, they meet for two hours every month. Will anyone notice they are gone?

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  • Matt Picio April 7, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    peejay (#8) – no. The meetings are public, so notice has to go on the calendar – a county employee has to do that. Whenever someone like Roger Geller or Basil Christopher comes by, a county employee takes care of all the details. And then, of course, whatever gets talked about at the meetings has to get back to the Transportation Division and implemented, adjusted to or accounted for. While volunteer labor could do a lot of that, it’s a lot more efficient if a county staff member does it. Also, every one of the committee members has other commitments, and some come from pretty far out in the county.

    ChipSeal (#10) – Ask yourself that next time you ride over the Hawthorne, or the Morrison (after the bike/ped update is done), or the Burnside bridge. All those county bridges have improvements that were at least in part due to the efforts of the committee. Ditto for Gresham until recently, most of east county, SW outside of Portland and Sauvie’s Island. And BTW, the Portland Bicycle Committee only meets 2 hours a month as well – and they get even more done in that time.

    You’re right, though – probably few will notice, and fewer will realize what the effect of losing that voice means for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

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  • Joel Batterman April 7, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    This is a rather remarkable decision, given that over eight percent of the County’s population commutes by foot or bike (Census Bureau’s 2005-7 American Community Survey). We all know times are tight, but surely it’s not hard to see that bicycle and pedestrian investments pay for themselves many times over, not least in reducing the need for far more costly road construction and maintenance projects.

    You can find the contact information for county transportation staff below, and I encourage everyone to voice their concerns.

    http://www2.co.multnomah.or.us/Public/EntryPoint?ct=0308dac440517010VgnVCM4365330ac614acRCRD&cpsextcurrchannel=1

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  • Scott Mizée April 7, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Jonathan (#9) Looking forward to that follow up story…

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  • Bjorn April 7, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    I am going to publish 5 other email addresses below. Lets all remember to be a little more high brow than some of the stuff that went out to people in salem over the bike tax. The county commissioners were likely not directly involved in this decision, but they may be able to help rectify it.

    Ted Wheeler: mult.chair@co.multnomah.or.us
    Deborah Kafoury: district1@co.multnomah.or.us
    Jeff Cogen:
    district2@co.multnomah.or.us
    Judy Shiprack: district3@co.multnomah.or.us
    Diane McKeel: district4@co.multnomah.or.us

    Bjorn

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  • Mikey Lynch April 7, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    This is unfortunate. There are a lot of parts of the County that receive less attention than they should. The MC Bike-Ped committee always cared for areas outside of the jurisdictions of Portland and Gresham, and spent a great deal of their personal time to assist the County.

    I understand the legality, and I know that the Transportation and Bridge folks at the County are very supportive of appropriate Bike / Ped facilities, but I think that a strong connection with the ‘outside Portland’ community has been severed.

    Hopefully, this link can be re-established soon to help (1) provide a voice for County residents and (2) reinforce bike AND ped priorities for County Bridges.

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  • Racer X April 7, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Perhaps it is time for the City of Portland to buy out the county for one or two of the more important bike bridges. (Vs. Soccer stadiums and hotels)

    If this change is telegraphing the county’s shift to meeting its charter required services (health safety police, etc.) vs. urban services…like bike bridges in the city…then Portland riders could be held hostage to suburban leaders during future [dis] investments in sustainable infrastructure.

    Lead the charge to save the Willamette bridges!

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  • Paul Tay April 8, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Matt P.: “None of the committee members were notified that the dissolution of the committee was even being considered.”

    ALL County meetings are subject to open records rules. Somewhere, somewhen a bunch of insiders talk and keep notes. If they kept it a state secret, maybe this might be legally actionable?

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  • matt picio April 8, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Well, this goes beyond just the county bridges in Portland. Crossing the Sandy River is atrocious for pedestrians (granted, there are very few doing that on a regular basis). The county also deals with issues in Corbett and the rest of the Columbia Gorge, Maywood Park, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village, Sauvie’s Island, and the Southwest hills between Portland and Beaverton. Nearly all of these outlying areas have at best rudimentary bike facilities, and almost no pedestrian amenities to speak of.

    My main issue in this is that the someone at the county level did this without notifying the committee Chair or Vice-Chair that suspension of the committee was under consideration. It was done, and the committee members were notified after the decision had been made. That’s not an appropriate nor acceptable way to work with the public, and I don’t know about all of you, but I won’t accept that from my local government.

    Looking forward to Jonathan’s follow-up.

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  • matt picio April 8, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Paul (#17) – If the Transportation Division made an administrative decision, it won’t be in a meeting. I’ve emailed them asking for clarification. The committee is appointed by the county Board of Commissioners, and serves at their discretion – I believe that means that the Board is the only county entity empowered to suspend the committee, and I’ve asked for confirmation on that.

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  • Paul Tay April 8, 2009 at 9:18 am

    So, until the Board acts, under open meeting rules, the BAC is still on.

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  • Paul Tay April 8, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Admin decisions subject to FOI rules too? Find out who initiated the conversation and out ’em!

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  • Paul Tay April 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Cut and paste this for your fav C-commish:

    Dear Most Honorable County Commissioner So-and-so:
    Would you please replace one of the engineers in the roadway geometric design group with a bicycle transportation professional to insure proper design of bike-friendly roadway segments during the preliminary design phase?

    Far too often, roadways are designed to encourage:
    1) CRIMINAL passing behaviors by motorists;
    2) And, CRIMINAL speeding by motorists on roadway segments between signalized green cycles.

    Regards,
    So-and-so, bike genius

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  • steve April 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Matt said-

    “My main issue in this is that the someone at the county level did this without notifying the committee Chair or Vice-Chair that suspension of the committee was under consideration”

    Well thank heavens you are not worried about how this will impact biking(it won’t). What is clearly important here is that someone hurt Matt’s feelings. Those 2 hours a month changed all of our lives. The sun will now be darkened and the Autos will reign again.

    Oh the horror.

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  • Jeff Cogen April 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    This decision was made by County staff and has not been approved by the County Board. In fact, the first I heard of it was on this site.

    As a member of the County Board I want to emphasize that we have not changed our explicit support for Bicycle and Pedestrian transportation alternatives. I will fight any effort to cut that back. There is no readon for us to cut back on the citizen involvement that has led us to make such good decisions as the long overdue Bike-Ped improvements to the Morrison bridge.

    Thanks.

    Jeff Cogen
    Multnomah County Commissioner

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  • bahueh April 8, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Racer X….please explain the danger to teh PDX bridges and why they need saving, exactly?

    they were built before you were born…they’re not going anywhere…

    PDX bridges dont’ create revenue streams like soccer teams and/or hotels do….
    they just sit there and require constant maintenance…

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  • matt picio April 8, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    steve (#23) – it has nothing to do with feelings, it has to do with proper procedure and professional behavior.

    In this case, the Transportation Division should have contacted the committee Chair (Greg Olson), or if he could not be contacted, the Vice-Chair (myself) and informed us that the county was considering suspending the committee due to budgetary reasons. That would allow the committee to wrap up business in progress, propose alternatives to the county to keep the committee going, and determine how best to continue to communicate issues to the county.

    This doesn’t have to do with feelings, it has to do with the public input process.

    I hope that whatever cause you are involved with receives better support from your peers than ours does from you.

    best wishes for your cause,
    -Matt P.

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  • carless in pdx April 9, 2009 at 4:15 am

    Ok, I have to admit I’m a bit miffed at the news, and don’t entirely understand what the ramifications might be.

    Are these the folks that collect the community input to any County projects, like bridges and so forth? They don’t make decisions, right? What exactly is their role of the citizen committee? Thanks.

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  • Matt Picio April 9, 2009 at 11:39 am

    carless in pdx (#27) – The Committee advises the Board of County Commissioners and Transportation Division on matters involving bicycle and pedestrian transportation within the County’s road jurisdiction.

    What that means in practice is that the committee is briefed on any new projects the Transportation Division is planning, or any ODOT projects which impact county facilities, and the committee provides feedback to the Division and the Board of Commissioners as to the committee’s recommendations on how to proceed, and to best address the needs and requirements of cyclists and pedestrians. The committee is an advisory body only, but in projects where the county doesn’t actively seek public input the committee is the only organized means by which bike and ped-specific concerns can be communicated and addressed. Committee members also ensure that the public is apprised of these projects, especially in the cases of those projects which are not heavily advertised to the public-at-large.

    Organized efforts to communicate the status of projects are already hindered by the BTA’s decision to cut staff – the BTA no longer has a staff presence on the committee. Some of the committee members communicate frequently with the BTA, but the burden of communication has moved from paid staff to the volunteer committee.

    As a committee member, I am in the process of creating closer communication with the WPC on pedestrian-specific issues, and the committee is always looking for additional sources of public input and collaboration.

    Without the committee, the avenues of public inquiry and action are limited to individual efforts and the proactiveness of the county itself in getting the word out.

    A number of stories Jonathan has posted on bikeportland in the last year are in part due to notifcations by the committee or its members.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 9, 2009 at 11:41 am

    hi carless in PDX,

    For more on why this committee is important, check out this list sent to me by committee member Andrew Holtz…

    Besides the Hawthorne Bridge markings you noted, I was just thinking about other times we’ve weighed in:
    – helping convince Tri-Met to redesign, rather than close stairs from the Morrison Bridge to 1st Ave.
    – thinking through the tricky westbound connections from the widened Morrison Bridge bike/ped path that is finally starting construction (it’s not perfect, but as good as possible)
    – showing Tri-Met how the initial designs for bicycle access to I-205 Max stations would create problems for cyclists and conflicts with pedestrians and vehicles (the designs were improved)
    – helping shape the proposed new Sellwood Bridge to protect the interests of cyclists and walkers
    – setting capital improvement priorities, including boosting the importance of connectivity in deciding which projects move forward first
    – working with the county attorney and sheriffs on cyclist/vehicle conflicts on Sauvie Island

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